With the economy on the upswing, many growing companies are starting to go after talented new employees. That means a lot of first days on the jobs, and lot of time and money to spend while new staffers get up to speed. What if you could shrink the time it takes for an employee to reach his or her full potential?
That's the promise of a growing trend in human-resources management called onboarding; its advocates describe it as a comprehensive approach to bringing on new hires that goes beyond simple orientation. Onboarding plans are intended to make new employees familiar with the overall goals of a company and support them as they embark on early projects all in an effort to achieve the perception of success (and productivity) quickly. The ultimate payoff is to reduce turnover and encourage workers to stay with an organization for a longer tenure.
'It's really about calculating the cost of hiring new workers to the business,' says John Sullivan, former chief talent officer for Agilent Technologies and a professor of management at San Francisco State University. 'Companies need new hires to be productive and, at a small company especially, every employee counts.'
Here's a look at how your company can set up an onboarding process to shorten the learning curve for new hires.
Onboarding a New Hire: Plan Ahead
Think onboarding begins on an employee's first day? Wrong. A successful onboarding program actually begins during the recruitment and hiring process, says Erin Perry, director of client solutions at Pinstripe, a recruiting company based in Brookfield, Wisconsin. An onboarding process is linked to and in some ways starts with the employer brand that you create to attract people who are the right fit for your company's overall goals. 'If you're a high tech organization that has a cool brand and that uses social media and talks about innovation when you're advertising to attract new associates, that's great," Perry says. "But if on a new hire's first day you hand them 15 different forms to fill out, your employment brand message has just died."
Experts suggest you begin the orientation process before a candidate is formally hired by including ample information about your workplace and your culture in the Careers section on your website. 'The orientation should begin at the first click of the mouse when someone first goes on the company's website, so by the time the person comes in for the interview, they already know quite a lot about the organization,' says Richard Jordan, a business coach who has been responsible for reshaping the recruiting and orientation process at a number of technology firms. That way, you are more likely to attract candidates who are more engaged with your company's goals and culture and are more likely to become highly productive employees.
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A new hire will surely be required to fill out a lot of new paperwork, so why not get a head start? Many companies choose to send necessary legal forms along with a formal offer letter. You can also send an employee handbook ahead of time, so that new staff members aren't overwhelmed with information on the first day.
HR software and other related applications can also be deployed ahead of time. Automated systems are especially useful because onboarding requires the involvement of multiple departments within a company, all working together to welcome and engage a new employee, to make him or her feel as comfortable as possible from Day One. The right technology can help coordinate various individuals and tasks by taking care of paperwork electronically, or sending notifications alerting IT support staff to configure a new hire's laptop and BlackBerry.
Technology can also be an effective way to socialize your new hire into your company's organizational culture, Perry says. On a company Intranet, you can make available to a new hire multimedia such as video and podcasts that state your company's overall strategic goals, talk about your company's values, and provide employee testimonials. As a bonus, these videos can feature company leaders, which will help introduce key players, cutting down on the endless name game that typically happens on an employee's first day.
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Onboarding a New Hire: On the First Day, Nail the Details
The prospect of the first day on the job is nerve-wracking. New hires are eager to impress their new bosses. So, if they don't know where the photocopier is or how to use it, chances are they aren't going to ask, and will waste time trying to figure the little things out for themselves. And if you throw a bunch of information at them, chances are they're not going to remember most of it. With an effective onboarding program, you should aim to present basic information in an easy-to-digest fashion, so that a rookie can turn to the more demanding aspects of his or her job.
The way to do that is to consider the small, logistical details that add up to a sense of comfort and familiarity one has in a workplace. This is good not just for a new hire's peace of mind, but also for the overall health and well-being of your business. 'If a person is new and doesn't know how to use the phone system and accidentally hangs up on a potential client, that client is not going to care that they were new,' says John Sullivan. 'They're just going to be angry.'
Here's a list of things you should have ready by the time your new hires walk in the door:
- Send out an e-mail to everyone in the office so they're prepared to welcome a new employee.
- Get the new worker a security badge if he or she needs one.
- Provide a name plate on his or her desk or office door as a tangible sign that you've prepared the space.
- Set up the computer.
- Configure the new employee's e-mail accounts.
- Provide guides for any necessary software he or she will be using.
- Set up his or her phone system, and provide instructions for using voicemail.
- Have a stack of business cards waiting.
And here's a list of questions you should answer for the new employee voluntarily:
- What should he or she bring? (Telling them to bring two forms of ID to verify paperwork is a good idea.)
- Where should he or she park?
- Who should he or she ask for in the lobby?
- Where are the restrooms?
- Where is the copy machine? (And how does it work?)
- Where is the cafeteria?
- Who should the employee talk to if he or she has additional questions? (It's a good idea to assign a co-worker or a hiring manager as a mentor to check-in with the new hire throughout at least the first week.)
A new employee's immediate supervisor should also be present on the first day. 'The worst thing you can do is have new hires show up when their immediate supervisor isn't there for three or four days,' Sullivan says. 'It's like getting married and not having your spouse on your honeymoon.'
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Onboarding a New Hire: Individualizing the Process
Unlike a traditional first-day orientation, where an employee generally spends a good chunk of time signing forms for Human Resources and reviewing the policies of the organization, onboarding is intended to be a multi-faceted approach. And while the list of things to consider for a new hire's first day applies to pretty much any employee, that doesn't mean you should forget about the unique needs of each individual. Quite the opposite, in fact.
For example, different people prefer different management styles, so why not ask a new employee from the start how he or she wants to be managed? 'Onboarding is a performance-based, customized approach,' Sullivan says. 'Why don't ask you upfront what is the best way to manage you?'
A more personal element to the process can engage new employees, giving them the ability to identify their personal goals with the overall success of the organization. Ari Weinzweig, CEO of the Zingerman's Community of Businesses, a group of food specialty businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan, still personally teaches an orientation class to new staffers. 'By taking the time to teach the orientation, the clear message that comes across is that we value them and their work so highly that the head of the company is willing to sit with them to go over things,' he says.
Make sure a new staff member understands how he or she can individually contribute to the company. Explain to the employee how your performance appraisal system works, so he or she won't waste time on things that don't matter, and can quickly begin to work on key objectives. If you make a custom onboarding plan, 'you're leaving the individual with the impression that employees are very important assets to the organization, chosen from among many candidates, and that their talent and potential is recognized,' Jordan says. 'You want to make sure you develop their career path within the organization.'
How vested an employee feels to a company also has to do with the social relationships he or she makes with co-workers. An onboarding process should consider those relationships and facilitate them from the very beginning. Organize a lunch on the first day with the new employee's team or department the new employee. Or try giving your new employee a week's worth of gift certificates for lunch, so he or she can take a colleague to lunch each day.
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Onboarding a New Hire: Following Through on Your Plan
On-boarding doesn't end on the Friday of a new employee's first week on the job. The process should continue over the span of several months and, during that time, it is essential to solicit feedback from all constituents. A good way to do that is to assign a recruiting manager to keep track of the new hire's first few months on the job, Jordan says, because that individual will already have developed a relationship with the employee.
'I'm a big believer of surveying at every step of the process,' Perry says. She suggests surveying at the end of the first week and at the close of each of the employee's first three months, asking different questions at each stage. Begin with questions about the recruiting process, how the first day met the employee's expectations, and whether they are struggling with any issues related to technology. Then, start asking whether the employee has the necessary tools to complete his or her job and, finally, begin asking about an employee's strategic goals. You want to learn how engaged or connected the new hire feels to the organization.
You also want to make sure someone is accountable, preferably a line manager who realizes the cost savings to the business if a new employee gets up to speed quicker. You want managers to be very aware that you are measuring productivity through metrics. Make sure employees actually are becoming productive and, if they are not, figure out what is going wrong. Continually fine-tune how you onboard employees to make sure you can maximize the benefits of the process.
Once you've done that, you can begin to establish a general checklist of what you want to cover when you're onboarding. Even within that structured plan or process, make sure you leave room for those personal touches. 'Your employees are going to get orientated whether you plan for it or not," Perry observes. "But if you do plan it, it's a lot more likely to be successful."
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